Has anyone ever told you that you do not value or appreciate yourself enough? That you are too competent for your current position? Or that you were too good for your ex?
Were they right?
As odd as it may sound, other people often are much better judges of our character and our talents than we are. The reason is that our self-image is greatly distorted by our unconscious beliefs, past experiences and most importantly our level of self-esteem.
The tricky part is that most of us are sure that our self-esteem is high and healthy, yet we consistently under appreciate our skills, over doubt our decisions and under act when opportunities present themselves.
Think about it – Have you ever been in situations where you could have acted with a little more boldness, but at the last minute you chickened out and let the opportunity pass right in front of your nose?
I know I have and I actually do not believe myself to suffer from low self-esteem.
It is not poor self-esteem that is the problem, but the occasional ‘mental friction’ that arises at the worst possible moment in the worst possible place.
At the base of this friction lie three psychological factors that largely contribute to dampened self-confidence, occasional self-doubts and groundless shyness:
Self-Esteem Factor #1: Locus of control
This strangely sounding psychology term has a lot to do with personal responsibility and feeling of being in control of our destiny. As a rule people with an internal locus of control see their accomplishments and failures as a direct result of their actions. People with an external locus of control believe that “things just happen to them”, therefore, they attribute their successes and failures to forces outside their influence (e.g. luck or fate).
Depending on the circumstances our locus of control can shift either inwardly or outwardly.
For example, when we start blaming other people or external factors for our problems, we give away our right to improve the situation and this decision impedes our self-confidence and empowers a “victim mentality”. On the other hand, taking the decision to take responsibility for everything that happens to us, both good and bad, we gain power to change what we do not like and work on those areas of our life that need improvement.
Self-Esteem Factor #2: Self-Validation
Self-esteem is not something we are simply born with. It is an opinion and a number of beliefs that we form about ourselves and our abilities over the course of our life. These self-beliefs are based on: an objective feedback that we get from our environment, conclusions that we make about ourselves and our perception of how other people view us.
When these three factors are in balance, our self-esteem is strong and healthy. But as soon as we start placing higher importance on what others think of us (or what we believe they think of us) we lose our center to the point of conforming our personality and goals to other people’s desires.
This type of behavior creates inner friction between what we would like to do and what we feel we “must do” in order to be liked and to feel good about ourselves. To eliminate this friction and boost our self-esteem we should know when to listen to someone else’s advice and when to follow our own heart, even at the cost of disapproval.
Self-Esteem Factor #3: Sense of Competence
The third factor talks about how good we believe we are at what we do. My 6-year old nephew, for example, firmly believes that he is great at things he has never tried in his life, like ice-skating or ghost-hunting. And to my outward amazement he learns new skill with remarkable speed.
You and I may be more careful about making claims of our mastery. We rely on our experience, our accomplishments and actual results of our actions before deciding whether we are skilled at something or not.
When we do not feel we are making any progress, our level of self-esteem decreases and we start having doubts about our abilities.
But in order to improve and develop our talents, we need to learn how to separate our performance from who we are. A setback or a single mistake does not make us a failure. It simply makes us human. 🙂